It was now time to move on from our nostalgic sojourn in Abbeville, say goodbye to old friends and hit the road to catch up with new friends who were already waiting for us in Belgium.
A few hours drive and we were well on the way. We pulled off the main road looking for a place to stay turning off onto increasingly minor roads until one road just ran out in a field. So we parked up and spent our last, peaceful night in France.
Next day we crossed the border into Belgium, and went from being able to fluently communicate to struggling with basics like please and thank you! The Bailey family had already set up camp and were waiting for us in a little town on the coast not far from the border, bizarrely named Nieuwpoort … so we felt right at home.
The afternoon and evening was spent in our usual fashion, enhanced by some Belgium beers and as usual we were the last to put lights out in the camperstop.
Next day was hot so we aimed for somewhere to swim. Chelle was also on a mission to find hot chips, allegedly Belgium’s finest export to the world. The former was quickly found and a couple of hours swimming in the North Sea cooled us off and tired out the kids. Could not believe how warm the water was – as warm as Sydney in the summer!
Chips were harder to come by but Chelle would not deviate from the objective and eventually we found some excellent chippies near Antwerp and chowed down. After refreshing ourselves and our vans at the camperstop (toilet empty, grey water out, clean water in, laundry, electricity, showers) wild camping was the aim for the next night. I was charged with finding a spot and drove following Bay mad for half an hour as we peered down lanes, chucked U-ees and generally drove erratically.
However a few false starts and we ended up with a beaut. Canal and bike path on one side, nature reserve on another and farmer’s fields on the others.
Lovely evening spent riding bikes, rollerblades and eating dinner… until the mozzies came in to feed in their hundreds.
Next day we rendezvoused in Ghent which was smack in the middle of their main annual festival (since 1857 or so my t-shirt says).
I say their main festival because they had just finished a week long Jazz festival with another event to follow. I’ve said it before – Europe in summer – quiet as for 10 months of the year, then it goes off big time!
The festival was great. We only saw a couple of acts (which were great) but the kids had fun in a learn-to-dance session and we mainly enjoyed the ‘street theatre’. Magicians, musicians, circus acts and more just made wandering round a fantastic afternoon/evening. Bay and I worked out we spent nearly 40 Euro between us into busker’s hats… money well spent.
Next stop was Bruges, a small city that so many people love. It was indeed a great place – canals, old buildings, chocolate and beer. Oh the beer. Stayed 3 nights and I think I tasted nearly 30 different brews. Trouble is they tend to start at 6% and move up to 12% so we exercised moderation and only drank dozens of small beers rather than hundreds of large beers.
The ‘we’, I should add was fortified by Neil and Dave, my mates from Uni who I had not seen for about 15 years. These wonderful Brighton boys, made a huge effort, took the Friday off and drove over to catch up for the weekend. Plenty of reminiscing, beers, great food and more beers. On the first night we stumbled upon a free Suzanne Vega concert, then met a lovely Bruggian, Sara, who took us to some secret underground drinking spots. Tamely finished up around 2am with a kebab… just like Manchester really. Next night, Bay reinforced the troops and we clocked a 4:30am return (again kebab in hand), clambouring into the campervans naïvely thinking we’d gotten away with it.
Other than the nightlife and the beers, Bruges was lovely.
We spent 3 nights there at the camperstop and spent a memorable time with great friends. Sad to say goodbye to Neil and Dave –same great guys after catching up after so long and then it was time to say goodbye to the Baileys. A chance meeting in Germany 3 months earlier and we’d since caught up on no less than 5 further occasions and become firm friends.. But their time had come to an end and they were heading for Calais and the end of their European adventure. A Brighton and a Lincolnshire visit is on the cards in December.
Suddenly devoid of friends once more and feeling lonely, the antidote is to saddle up and hit the road. The Netherlands awaited plus the chance to meet up again with Nat, another great friend we’d travelled with months earlier.
So we aimed in the general direction and Frosty lumbered into gear. After a few hours, we picked a spot Michelin to settle down for the night. Nice town and notable for 4 things…
- A really cool church with massive tower
- One of the oldest breweries in Belgium (closed… hmmpf)
- We went to the movies! The Dutchies don’t do dubbing so we enjoyed How to Train your Dragon 2 in perfect English
- We lost James
The last point was truly horrific. It was morning after we’d spent the night, the only vehicle in a vast car park outside the cinema complex. We suddenly realised we hadn’t seen him for 20 or 30 minutes and freaked out. Of course after 10 minutes or so of frantic running around, during which we found some workmen to join the hunt and called the police, we found him, hunkered down inside the (still closed) complex playing the free PlayStation games there.
Massive, massive relief. In hindsight, we did both panic… due to the foreboding nature of the place as much as anything, I think. This is also despite the fact we have, during this trip, given James and Abbie increasing independence without worrying. In France we would send them to buy a baguette a kilometre away in the morning, for example. They are tough little kids these days.
Anyway, that frightening event marked the last night in Belgium as we set out sites on the land of cheese, windmills and…. The ‘Dam. Stay tuned!